Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SATNET intraregional visit wraps up in Nepal with participants expressing satisfaction with new knowledge gained

On the fourth day (22 Aug 2014) of the SATNET Intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors, the participants first visited an organic vegetable collection centre run by a local Marketing and Planning Committee (MPC) near Tansen in Palpa district. The centre is supported by iDE in partnership with local NGOs and the private sector, and follows a market-led approach with a crop calendar prepared keeping in view market demand and prices in order to enable good returns for the farmers.

Off-season tomato cultivation under plastic house
The group also visited the Chirtungdhara Village Development Committee (VDC) where the participants observed with keen interest a technique for off-season (rainy season) tomato cultivation. The creepers are grown under a ‘plastic house’ along bamboo poles fixed in the ground which helps to prevent waterlogging. Drip irrigation is used for watering the crop. Such off-season cultivation allows the farmers to obtain higher prices for their produce. The technique was initially demonstrated by iDE in the area and has now been adopted by a large number of farmers. 

Multiple water use system collection tank
Another interesting technology seen was the Multiple Use Water System (MUS). A highland drinking water source feeds a collection tank for drinking water. The overflow from this tank is channelled to a second collection tank for irrigation (including drip irrigation purposes) so that drinking water use is prioritized over irrigation. Distribution to end users at downhill locations takes place through a network of pipes. This technology is suitable for hilly areas, and supports climate change adaptation through water resource conservation. It is particularly helpful for women who otherwise have to climb long distances to collect drinking water for their households. A committee of community members is constituted to manage and monitor the operation of the MUS. In this context, the visitors also suggested rain water harvesting and its storage in concrete tanks to augment water availability for households in the community.

Community meeting at Chidipani MPC
Finally, the group visited an MPC/Collection Centre at Chidipani VDC and obtained in-depth information on the work of the MPC which has now been successfully constituted as a cooperative. The MPC’s activities include promotion of IPM, training of farmers, vegetable collection, post-harvest support, and marketing, and mobilization of savings. The visitors took a tour of the farm of a progressive farmer during which a number of useful techniques and farm machinery were demonstrated. 

Participants with their certificates
At the end of the day, the participants provided feedback on the visit at a Warp Up meeting held in Kathmandu. It was expressed that this visit had provided a unique, hands-on learning opportunity for smallholder representatives, and that they had received (as well as shared) much new knowledge and ideas. Some of the areas/technologies that were cited as particularly useful were irrigation systems (including drip irrigation and MUS), off-season tomato cultivation under plastic house, IPM practices, bio-gas production, and aquaculture techniques. The participants conveyed their strong intent to apply and disseminate the learning upon return to their home countries. All of them were also awarded certificates of participation by CAPSA and iDE for taking part in the visit. 
South Asian farmers and community leaders exchange knowledge on sustainable agriculture during Nepal visit

Bio-gas unit component
The third day of the SATNET Intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors in South Asia, currently underway in Nepal, commenced with a visit to Majgaun village in Rupandehi district. A revolving fund established for the village community by an iDE project has enabled many households to set up low-cost bio-gas generation units which utilize cow dung and human excreta. These units have brought many benefits such as smoke-free cooking, greater cleanliness and better health conditions. The slurry from the bio-gas digesters is also applied in farmers’ fields as manure, resulting in cost saving on account of the reduced application of chemical fertilizers. Some of the visitors shared their experience of using bio-gas to run water pumps in their countries, and of establishing larger-scale, community-owned bio-gas units. Apart from bio-gas, the revolving fund has also been utilized to promote Treadle Pumps for irrigation purposes. 

Butwal fruit and vegetable wholesale market
In the second half of the day, the group visited a fruit and vegetable wholesale market at Butwal on the way to the hill town of Tansen in Palpa district. This is the second largest wholesale market in Nepal and an important agro-trading centre established as a public private partnership with financial contributions from the government, the local municipality and traders. The group interacted with the market’s senior management and learnt how it has grown over time and how it functions effectively including through linkages with village level Marketing and Planning Committees (MPCs) which act as collection points for farmers’ produce. 

During the day, the participants also visited nearby Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha and a famous UNESCO World Heritage site.

Monday, August 25, 2014

SATNET intraregional visit participants learn about innovative production, marketing and community mobilization practices in Nepal

On the second day of the SATNET Intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors in South Asia, taking place in Nepal, the participants were exposed to an interesting marketing model for agricultural inputs that is being promoted by iDE Nepal through financial and technical support under its ‘Challenge Fund’ initiative. ‘Agrovets’ or private agricultural input suppliers who usually market their products only from their shops, have engaged ‘Community Business Facilitators’ (CBFs) who are members of the local community. The CBFs act as sales agents and undertake marketing of the inputs directly at the village level, gaining a commission from the proceeds. This has been a win-win model for all, with the Agrovet achieving increased sales of upto four times as a result of better marketing outreach, the CBFs obtaining additional income from their commission, and the farmers gaining access to good quality seeds/inputs which are delivered on time right at their doorsteps. The fact that the CBFs are chosen from the local community itself promotes trust and assurance against any fraudulent practices or cheating. The Challenge Fund has supported training and awareness building activities for farmers, thus strengthening the model.
Treadle pump
Off-season vegetable production
The visiting group interacted with members of the Sagarmatha Farmer Group in Nawalparasi district which is practising IPM for vegetable production. Based on a collective assessment of market demand, the group develops a participatory production plan that specifies the vegetables to be grown by group members, how much area to be devoted to each crop, which varieties to use etc. in order to help optimize profit. The group saw off-season (rainy season) production of vegetables like brinjal on raised bunds to protect the crop from waterlogging. It also observed use of Treadle Pump which is a low-cost irrigation technology introduced by iDE in Nepal from Bangladesh. Over time, iDE has been able to scale up the off-season vegetable production and Treadle Pump technologies in this area. On their part, in the context of IPM, one of the participants from Pakistan shared his knowledge about how to prepare a low-cost botanical pesticide using Neem tree kernels.  

The visitors had an in-depth interaction with the local Marketing and Planning Committee (MPC) of vegetable growers in Devgaun VDC, which has won an award from the Nepalese Government. The role of the MPC is collection of the produce from members and providing backward and forward/marketing linkages. The coordination of production and marketing through the MPC enables the growers to bargain better with traders to realize higher prices. They also receive some insurance and training support from the MPC. Once again, the visitors were able to provide numerous suggestions to the MPC to enhance its services such as utilizing Information and Communication Technology (eg. SMS) to disseminate information about market prices to members.

Observing oil distillation unit
Towards the end of the day, the group visited the Chisapani Community Forestry Group which is operating an Oil Distillation Unit for Methanol, lemon grass and other oils. The Unit sources raw material from a women’s community group that cultivates these crops on otherwise fallow community-owned land. Apart from providing additional income to the women and the community, this technology helps in carbon sequestration through agro-forestry. The group also visited a farm machinery Local Service Provider (LSP) to learn about use of Zero Till Seed Drill (requiring less water), Laser Land Leveller and Bed Maker, and observed Direct Seeded Rice technology vis-à-vis the conventional rice production technique. 
Third SATNET intraregional visit for smallholder value chain actors commences in Nepal 

The third in the series of SATNET Intraregional Visits for Smallholder Value Chain Actors is being organized in Nepal in partnership with International Development Enterprises (iDE) Nepal from 18-23 August, 2014. This visit is focused on South Asia with a thematic emphasis on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), climate resilient agriculture, and post-harvest issues which are of strong relevance to the region. Eighteen participants from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan are taking part in the visit, representing progressive farmers, village community leaders and NGO extension workers. 

On 19 Aug, the participants travelled from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa in South Nepal which is close to a cluster of iDE’s project sites including the European Union-funded Agriculture and Nutrition Extension Project (ANEP). A welcome and briefing session was held wherein the participants were provided with an overview of the SATNET project and the objectives of this visit, as well as a background of iDE Nepal and its projects. 

Solar power water pump
The first site visit was to Madhuri Village Development Committee (VDC) in Rupandehi district where the participants participated in a village community meeting. The community has organized itself into a farmer cooperative with a majority of women members, and has become a model for IPM. In fact, the village has now gone completely organic and is free from application of chemical pesticides. Bio-fertilizers such as Trichoderma (a beneficial fungi) are also used. There is now growing interest amongst traders to buy organic produce from the village. The visitors observed technologies such as a solar power water pump (a climate change adaptation technology for water scarce areas being piloted by iDE) and Xylum pump (with foot pedals for pumping water and particularly suitable for hilly areas). 

Participants interacting with local community on IPM
The participants also visited Pathkhauli and Siktahan VDCs where they observed how farmers have increased their income and nutritional intake for themselves as well as their communities through fish nurseries/aquaculture (practiced both in small water tanks as well as in large ponds). They also saw dyke vegetable farming techniques where farmers are utilizing raised bunds along the edges of fish ponds for organic cultivation of vegetables.

Aquaponic and vegetable production
Finally, at Chhipagadh VDC, the visitors were provided with a demonstration of an Axial Flow Pump which utilizes power from a common tractor to irrigate large areas (70-80 hectares) and represents a technology which can be adopted collectively at the community level, or even be provided on an hourly-charge basis through Local Service Providers. At the same site, they observed aquaponics technology where a caged area in a pond is used for rearing fish which are released into the larger pond upon maturity. Moreover, a bamboo frame structure extending from the edges of the pond over the water provides additional space for cultivating vegetables (particularly creeper varieties).  

The day was marked with enthusiastic interaction between the visitors and the local communities. Apart from learning from the sites they visited, the visitors also shared their own experiences and suggestions for improvement with the communities, making this an exciting two-way learning and enrichment process!